Nancy Kelsey: The First Woman to Cross the Sierra 1841

The year was 1841 and the Kelsey clan, often on the move, once again had itching feet. A letter from a Dr. Marsh (Dr. John Marsh) in California praising the new land excited many Missourians yearning for a great adventure. However, when spring came only a small group gathered at Sapling Grove near Weston, Missouri, to actually make the trip.

Among them were several members of the extended Kelsey family, including Nancy, her husband Ben, and their daughter Martha Ann. Known as the Bartleson-Bidwell company, this group followed dim traces of the new Oregon Trail. Tom “Broken-Hand” Fitzpatrick, the famous mountain man, was their guide as far as Soda Springs, Idaho. Then they were on their own. Seven long, weary and troublesome months would pass before they arrived at Sutter’s Fort in California. Nancy would also earn the distinction of being the first white woman to cross the Sierra Nevada.

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